Write a 5 page plus title and reference, APA formatted paper in which you discuss what “equal educational opportunity” means to you.

Write a 5 page plus title and reference, APA formatted paper in which you discuss what “equal educational opportunity” means to you. Explain whether you feel “equal educational opportunity” means the same thing for all students, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic class, ability, etc. Be sure to support your position with examples and reasoned arguments.

Use textbook only to support your major points.  This is a reflection and critical thinking assignment so you should be analyzing and synthesizing what you’ve read and then putting those ideas into your own words in your paper.  DO NOT USE ANY INTERNET SOURCES ON THIS PAPER!!!  Your paper MUST be properly formatted in APA format.  If your paper is not properly cited and formatted, it will be returned to you with a grade of zero.

School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
by Steven Tozer, Guy Senese, Paul Violas

chapter 12

Introduction: Inequity and Inequality From its very origins American society has struggled with questions of equity and equality. Although these terms derive from the same linguistic stem, they carry substantially different meanings. Equality denotes “equal”; equity, “fair.” Even as an ideal, democracy does not call for an identical existence for each citizen or promise to equalize outcomes. In theory, democratic ideals of freedom marry well with ideals of economic freedom. Those who have the most skill and talent, work hardest, and have the best luck are expected to prosper in a free market economy. The free market is supposed to structure a system of rewards that bring out the productive best in people. In practice, however, this theory is questionable. It assumes that the starting conditions for everyone allow for fair competition or, at the very least, that social institutions treat everyone fairly. British economic historian R. H. Tawney draws the distinction in this manner: [To] criticize inequality and to desire equality is not, as is sometimes suggested, to cherish the romantic illusion that men are equal in character and intelligence. It is to hold that, while their natural endowments differ profoundly, it is
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the mark of a civilized society to aim at eliminating such inequalities as have their source, not in individual differences, but in its own organization, and that individual differences, which are the source of social energy, are more likely to ripen and find expression if social inequalities are, as far as practicable, diminished. . . . it is by softening or obliterating, not individual differences, but class gradations, that the historical movements directed towards diminishing inequality have attempted to attain their objective.1 Liberal Ideology: Meritocracy Reexamined Social theorists and educators have long been concerned with the origins of inequality. Does inequality stem from deficiencies within certain individuals or groups or from external social and economic conditions? It is important to remember that inequalities which have their source in social organization mean that some, the socially privileged, have advantages which are denied to others in the society. The privileged often find it comforting as well as expedient to interpret these socially derived inequalities as intrinsic personal qualities. Not only do they claim personal ownership of their advantages, they often charge the socially disadvantaged with personal ownership of their deficiencies, justifying the low socioeconomic benefits accruing to the disadvantaged. In addition to frequent misuses of the terms equity and equality, much confusion has resulted from inadequately analyzing the implications of inequality. What sorts of educational and social policies are needed as a result of inequality, whatever its origin? Are some individuals so unequal that they cannot benefit from the kind of education others receive, and if so, should they be denied access to decision-making authority? As we have seen, these equity and equality issues were settled during the first decades of the 20th century as psychologists such as E. L. Thorndike and Lewis Terman along with sociologists such as E. A. Ross and Charles H. Cooley convinced the American public that African Americans and the “new immigrants” were innately inferior to Anglo-Saxon Americans.2 This conclusion led to the development of different and inferior educational programs for these groups. Thus, differentiated curricula soon became standard in American schools and were seen as a major component in the American system of meritocracy.3 The meritocracy issue reemerged during the 1960s, as we saw in the cold war era of Chapter 5, and remained at the center of educational discussions for the next 20 years. Fueling the new debate, as we shall see, was the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision and the ensuing Coleman study. These in turn led to several “cultural deprivation” studies, which will be analyzed briefly in the next section. The cumulative effect of these works was to reestablish the idea that some individuals and groups are inherently unequal. The source of inferiority was not considered to be social or economic conditions but flaws residing in some individuals and groups. Moreover, because their inherent deficiencies were considered to be of such magnitude, it was argued that they could not benefit from the kind of education their superiors received. Thus, the 1960s debate appeared to confirm the fairness of America’s meritocratic economic structure. If some children succeeded in school while others failed, it was believed, the fairness of the system ensured that children succeeded due to their own individual merit. Social Conditions behind the New Debate It is instructive to examine the social conditions out of which this new meritocracy debate emerged. Perhaps the first major challenge to the meritocratic conclusions reached at the beginning of this century resulted from the “GI Bill,” which appeared near the end of World War II as members of the Roosevelt administration began planning for the demobilization of the American armed forces. Their primary concern was to entice GIs to enter college rather than the labor market and thus help prevent massive unemployment. Many of these GIs came from poorly educated families that earlier had been judged inferior, and so they were not expected to succeed in college. In accordance with prevailing meritocratic ideas, many educators were horrified at the prospect of this horde of unprepared and ill-suited students leaving their lower-class backgrounds and crashing the citadels of learning. Educators forecast widespread failure for these new students. Much to their surprise, however, most of the GIs were very successful. As a group, they graduated at a higher rate than did the regular students and achieved higher grades en route to their diplomas. This success presented a new reality, a new set of social facts that most social analysts and educators chose to ignore.
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Nevertheless, it represented a potential chink in the armor of the meritocratic ideology. In 1954, immediately after the positive experience of the GI Bill, came the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which stated, “It is doubted that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education . . . [and such opportunity] must be made available to all on equal terms.”4 This reopened the debate about equity in American society. Michael Harrington’s 1962 best-seller, The Other America,5 added fuel to the debate as he reminded the middle class that one-third of Americans were still ill fed, ill housed, and ill clothed. Apparently, the umbrella of the “middle class” did not cover as much of the populace as conventional wisdom had assumed. This awareness of widespread inequality and inequity was heightened by the growing civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the urban riots that followed his murder in 1968. Meanwhile, the nation was becoming increasingly entangled in the Vietnam War and the social inequities that the war protest movement uncovered. And if the preceding events were not enough to unsettle the national psyche, President Lyndon Johnson, in an attempt to secure a political coalition of urban ethnics, African Americans, and liberal intellectuals, declared a war on poverty that found domestic foes almost as intractable as those in the rice paddies of southeast Asia. To round things out, events in the area of industrial labor relations were equally contentious, as seen in the conflict at General Motors’ Vega plant, where workers demanded democratic control of the workplace. It became clear to many that such events were causing a major reassessment of the modern liberal ideology undergirding meritocracy. Many critics questioned the “new liberal” faith in scientific expertise and scientific rationality as the best ways to organize the workplace and plan domestic and foreign policy. Expert and elite control
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3. Measured student performance on standardized tests showed considerable differences, with White students well ahead of African American students in test results. 4. The measured differences in school resources seemed to have little or no effect on the differences in students’ performance on standardized tests; that is, educational inputs (facilities, curricula, teachers) seemed to make no meaningful difference in outcomes (academic achievement). 5. The only variable that seemed to affect educational achievement (“outcomes”) was “quality of peers.” 6. Minority children, especially African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, entered school with lower achievement scores, and this gap increased throughout their stay in school. Although it was profoundly influential in the national discussion about schools and inequality, the Coleman study was seriously flawed. According to Samuel Bowles and Henry Levin, for example, the statistical method used to analyze the data grossly underestimated the positive effects of schooling on student achievement.9 In other words, if the study had been conducted differently, it would have shown that schools do matter a great deal—that different levels of school input produce very different outcomes in student learning. In addition to flaws in the statistical method used, the data collected by Coleman’s team were in themselves misleading: Teacher quality, for example, was measured primarily by years of schooling and years of teaching experience. Despite its flaws, the Coleman Report succeeded in focusing attention away from educational inputs (what schools bring to students) and toward what children bring to school. It seemed to invite the scientific investigation of unequal education achievement by looking for flaws in the children rather than in the schools or in societ y. The Cultural Deprivation Studies During the winter of 1966–1967, the Carnegie Foundation sponsored a seminar at Harvard University to examine the implications of the Coleman Report. Two books were conceived during the seminar: On Equality of Educational Opportunity, edited by Daniel P. Moynihan and Frederick Mosteller, and Inequality, by Christopher Jencks and his associates. Both books reanalyzed the Coleman database; that is, they used the data collected by the Coleman researchers rather than gathering new
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of social institutions did not seem to be producing the progress that modern liberalism promised. Further, the uncritical nationalism that modern liberalism had fostered in so many Americans was being questioned. And the promise of freedom for all Americans seemed to be an illusion, given the pervasive conditions of poverty that seemed to constrain millions of Americans who simply didn’t have an equal chance at the American dream of a self-sufficient life. As if these concerns were not enough, there were simultaneous attacks on the schools that were preparing children for their future roles in the meritocracy. These attacks ranged from Admiral Hyman Rickover’s demand for a technological elite to defend America from the onslaught of world communism,6 to Arthur Bestor’s charge that the schools were an intellectual “wasteland”7 that threatened the very existence of American democracy, to Nat Hentoff’s assertion that the inner-city schools were so underfunded that they could not educate.8 Thus, education, the major institutional support for meritocracy, was also under severe assault. A basic assumption in American schooling has been that students’ success in school and in economic life is based on their learning abilities in an equitable educational system. How does this assumption relate to the idea of our society as a meritocracy? Thinking Critically about the Issues #1 The Coleman Report To fulfill one of the provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Office of Education commissioned James Coleman to conduct a survey “concerning the lack of availability of equal educational opportunity for individuals by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin.” This study initiated the new debate on equity. Coleman’s team of researchers gathered data on over 6,000,000 schoolchildren, 60,000 teachers, and 4,000 schools across the United States. His findings were startling. To summarize them briefly: 1. Most African American students and White students attended different schools. 2. According to “measurable” characteristics (e.g., physical facilities, curricula, material resources,
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data. Thus both books suffered most of the same flaws as the original Coleman study. The Moynihan–Mosteller work10 concluded that since educational inputs are roughly the same for all children, America had achieved equal educational opportunity. The authors argued that educational expenditures were already high, and since further expenditures were not likely to raise educational achievement for minorities, such increases would be economically unwise. America, according to these writers, had already reached the point of diminishing returns regarding educational expenditures. In retrospect, it is interesting to note that the argument for a halt in rising educational expenditures did not originate with the conservative Nixon or Reagan administrations but with liberal Harvard social scientists who were supported by the Carnegie Foundation. This oc curred because the Moynihan–Mosteller work reinforced the Coleman Report’s suggestion that the achievement problems faced by minority students rested not with the schools but with the students and their cultural backgrounds. More money for the schools, in that interpretation, would provide little benefit. By implication, the book also bolstered the notion that poverty stems from personal problems within the poor rather than from problems within the social system.11 Christopher Jencks and colleagues’ Inequality12 was even more explicit, although perhaps unintentionally so, in its attempt to rescue the economic system from charges of inequity. The authors began by arguing that the Coleman data showed substantial equality of inputs in public schools. They also asserted that cognitive inequality was not affected by schooling but was largely dependent on the characteristics of the child upon entering school. Like Moynihan and Mosteller, they noted that unequal achievement was caused by deficiencies in the child, not in the school. The conclusions of Jencks et al. regarding economic inequality were not as predictable as their assertions about educational inequality. They argued that nothing in the Coleman data could be shown to affect future economic success. According to Jencks et al., family background, schooling, IQ, and cognitive skills had little or no predictive value on future economic success. They did hazard a guess, which they acknowledged lacked data support, that economic success was probably related to “luck” and special competencies, such as the ability to hit a baseball. Nevertheless, they recommended that society spend more money on schooling—even though schools do not make any difference in a person’s future—because most people spend 20 to 25 percent of their lives in school and thus schools should be “pleasant.”13 During the following decade many educators worried, talked, and planned about making schools more “pleasant” places. The real cost of this kind of activity was to deflect attention away from questions about how to make schools more effective learning centers for children. Henry M. Levin’s review14 of Jencks and colleagues’ work points out many of its major flaws. Levin notes that the authors’ conclusion that family background has little effect on future income, especially for the rich and the poor, defies the results of many studies of intergenerational mobility which show that the effect of family is quite significant. Regarding their conclusion that schooling has only a small effect on income, Levin suggests that their interpretation of what constitutes “small” may be open to interpretation. The data showed that the difference in annual income between high school graduates and elementary school graduates who were otherwise identical was 16 percent in favor of the high school graduates; between college graduates and elementary school graduates, the difference was 48 percent in favor of the college graduates. Levin notes, “Jencks apparently believes that such differences are small, but two men separated by such income disparities might not agree.”15 In light of the massive flaws in these studies and the fact that they nevertheless exerted, and continue to exert, considerable influence on educational and social policy, the question arises, How did this happen? The most reasonable explanation seems to be that these ideas were congenial to the powerful in our society because they served to justify and explain their own positions of privilege. In other words, these ideas were powerful because they accorded well with the dominant ideology: modern liberalism. They reinforced and appeared to justify a meritocratic arrangement of society and schooling. They deflected arguments that questioned the validity and fairness of such arrangements. Regardless of the reasons these studies became so influential, they continue to affect the way Americans think about equity and schools. Let us now examine some of the data concerning income, race, social class, gender, and schooling. Subsequently, we shall examine theories that attempt to explain the relationships found in these data.
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The Political–Economic Context The Demographics of Modern American Society The United States has been known from its beginning as a “land of opportunity,” and today it ranks near the top of all industrialized nations in per capita purchasing power.16 The United States is also one of the most schooled countries, in terms of years of schooling per capita. Per capita education spending in the United States compares well with other countries: Over 85 percent of U.S. students graduate from high schools, and U.S. college and university systems enroll nearly 20 million students, attracting applicants from all over the world.17 These statistics give an encouraging picture of American society. Unfortunately, this picture is misleading. For example, almost half of those who go on to college will drop out. And of those who drop out, a disproportionate number are from minority backgrounds. For example, six different states have school districts where the high school dropout rate is over 25 percent, and nationwide the dropout rate for African American and Hispanic students far exceeds the dropout rate for other populations. Although the nation is prosperous overall, income inequality is among the highest in the industrialized world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, recent median income for White and Asian American families ranged from $55,000 to $60,000, while for Black and Hispanic families it ranged from $33,000 to $34,000.18 These are huge differences not only in paying for college, but even for buying adequate clothing and housing a family in neighborhoods where good public schools prevail. To gain a more detailed picture of how wealth and power are distributed in society, social scientists examine data on income, educational level, childhood mortality, teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, home ownership, capital stock, and other social indices. These variables are then matched against different demographic groups organized by age, race, ethnicity, social class, gender, and so forth. (See Exhibits 12.1 and 12.2 for years of school completed related to age, through 2000, with 2010 census verifying continuation of those trends.) The next few sections step back from this larger picture of general prosperity to examine outcomes for several different demographic groups. The intent is to reinforce with statistics what is already common knowledge: Social, economic, and political outcomes generally favor men over women, White people over people of color, and upper- and middle-class people over the urban poor and the working class. Race, Ethnicity, and the Limits of Language In this section we examine data for specific minority groups. Bear in mind that both race and ethnicity are socially constructed terms that are difficult to define. There
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is, for example, no definition of race that will stand up to scientific analysis, and so it must be understood that race is not a purely biological term. For example, the distinction between White and African American is largely determined by legal ruling, as is the case in Louisiana. There the courts have held that a person is African American if the equivalent of one great-greatgreat-great-grandparent was African American (i.e., if a person is one sixty-fourth African American). Hispanics are usually classified by virtue of a Spanish surname— clearly a cultural rather than a biological distinction. The important point is that these terms refer less to innate biological differences than to socially constructed differences in how people are perceived to be members of various groups (see the American Anthropological Association Statement on “Race” in Table 12.1). There are several difficulties with trying to talk or write about issues of race and ethnicity. One, as the Dictionary of Race and Ethnic Relations points out, is that every time we use the word race, we appear to be perpetuating a concept that has no basis in science.19 The Human Genome Diversity Project, for example, has demonstrated that the darkest-hued African and the lightest-skinned Scandinavian are 99.99 percent identical in their genetic composition.20 Yet the concept of race has historically operated as if the differences among large groups of people (traditionally “Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid”) are so significant as to identify us as subspecies of the larger human species, a division that has no scientific basis. To continue to use the term race seems to perpetuate that mistaken notion. It might be better, it seems, to eliminate the term altogether from the way we refer to ourselves as humans—unless to affirm that we are all one race. However, the term race has been historically used to differentiate us from one another, not to unite us. (For the African and the Scandinavian to say they are of the same race seems like nonsense to most people, as if the language were being used in a way it was not meant to be used.) Therefore, focusing on race draws our attention to the differences among us rather than to the similarities. The same might be said for ethnicity, a term which does have a strong basis in social science. Focus on this term, too, can make people uncomfortable, because in the middle of the effort to affirm what we have in common with one another—our essential humanness—social scientists and educators use a term that emphasizes our differences. This may be perceived as divisive. It separates us by different languages and different cultural histories. In short, focus on ethnicity, like focus on race, seems to divide us rather than unite us, but for different reasons. There is still another difficulty with the language of race and ethnicity: Our terms of ethnic identification are disputed and often inaccurate. There is not full agreement among Native Americans (or American Indians, or Indians, or indigenous peoples) about which identifying term to use. Some of these terms (Indians, Americans) are the historical legacy of conquering Europeans, and most cultures resist having their names
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Table 12.1 AAA Statement on “Race” In the US both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that there is greater variation within racial groups than between them. This means that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species. Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others. For example, skin color varies largely from light in the temperate areas in the north to dark in the tropical areas in the south; its intensity is not related to nose shape or hair texture. Dark skin may be associated with frizzy or kinky hair or curly or wavy or straight hair, all of which are found among different indigenous peoples in tropical regions. These facts render any attempt to establish lines of division among biological populations both arbitrary and subjective. Historical research has shown that the idea of race has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them. Today scholars in many fields argue that race as it is understood in the USA was a social mechanism invented during the 18th century to refer to those populations brought together in colonial America: the English and other European settlers, the conquered Indian peoples, and those peoples of Africa brought in to provide slave labor. From its inception, this modern concept of race was modeled after an ancient theorem of the Great Chain of Being which posited natural categories on a hierarchy established by God or nature. Thus race was a mode of classification linked specifically to peoples in the colonial situation. It subsumed a growing ideology of inequality devised to rationalize European attitudes and treatment of the conquered and enslaved peoples. Proponents of slavery in particular during the 19th century used race to justify the retention of slavery. The ideology magnified the differences among Europeans, Africans and Indians, established a rigid hierarchy of socially exclusive categories, underscored and (continued)
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imposed by other cultures. One’s identity is in part shaped by one’s name, and we resist having our own names for ourselves replaced by someone else’s names for ourselves. Similarly, most Asian Americans now resist being called “Orientals,” and most African Americans resist being called “Negroes.” While some African Americans and Hispanics and Asian Americans use the term people of color to refer to non-White, non-Hispanic people in the United States, this obscures the fact that some Hispanics in the United States identify strongly with their European origins, are in all outward respects “White,” and do not want themselves described as “people of color.” In their view, they are as “white” as any other U.S. language or ethnic group (Polish, German, Irish) of European descent. Alternativel y, some Hispanics would choose to self -identify as Latino or Chicano (about which more later), terms that are chosen in part to make specific political statements about identity and self-representation. The term white is itself a cultural construction with ideological baggage. Even when we respect the names different peoples prefer for themselves, our efforts to talk about ethnicity are stymied by the fact that broadly inclusive terms are misleading. For example, to generalize about Hispanics or Asian Americans overlooks profound cultural differences, even historical hostilities, within each of those subgroups. While Japanese and Chinese and Cambodians are very different culturally and economically in the United States, the term Asian American seems to allow us to generalize about them as if they were basically similar. Similarly, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans have different histories and important differences in their status in the U.S. economic and educational system, but they are all Hispanics in our use of the language. If our language is such a clumsy tool for talking about these matters, why talk about them? Why can’t we all be
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one and stop emphasizing differences among us? (In fact, some would prefer that U.S. Census Bureau and other official documents would stop requiring us to identify ourselves as African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, American Indian, and so on.) One very important reason, as indicated in Cornel West’s Race Matters,21 is that people in the United States are deeply affected— privileged, damaged, even killed—according to their perceived membership in one racial or ethnic group or another. To stop talking about race and ethnicity is to lose an important tool for understanding why some people are treated differently from others in our society. Without race and ethnicity as categories, we can’t find answers to important questions about whether schools are serving all children equally well—or whether skin color or cultural background might be factors in why some children perform better than others. We would not be able to learn that Minnesota, a state with a highly regarded school system, ranks “dead last of all the states among African American fourth-graders,” to cite a 1996 study of academic achievement. If we take away race and ethnicity as tools for analysis, we can’t notice that
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Table 12.1 (concluded) bolstered unequal rank and status differences, and provided the rationalization that the inequality was natural or God-given. The different physical traits of African-Americans and Indians became markers or symbols of their status differences. As they were constructing US society, leaders among European-Americans fabricated the cultural/behavioral characteristics associated with each race, linking superior traits with Europeans and negative and inferior ones to blacks and Indians. Numerous arbitrary and fictitious beliefs about the different peoples were institutionalized and deeply embedded in American thought. Early in the 19th century the growing fields of science began to reflect the public consciousness about human differences. Differences among the racial categories were projected to their greatest extreme when the argument was posed that Africans, Indians and Europeans were separate species, with Africans the least human and closer taxonomically to apes. Ultimately race as an ideology about human differences was subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a strategy for dividing, ranking and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere. But it was not limited to the colonial situation. In the latter part of the 19th century it was employed by Europeans to rank one another and to justify social, economic and political inequalities among their peoples. During World War II, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler enjoined the expanded ideology of race and racial differences and took them to a logical end: the extermination of 11 million people of “inferior races” (e.g., Jews, Gypsies, Africans, homosexuals and so forth) and other unspeakable brutalities of the Holocaust. Race thus evolved as a world view, a body of prejudgments that distorts our ideas about human differences and group behavior. Racial beliefs constitute myths about the diversity in the human species and about the abilities and behavior of people homogenized into racial categories. The myths fused behavior and physical features together in the public mind, impeding our comprehension of both biological variations and cultural behavior, implying that both are genetically determined. Racial myths bear no relationship to the reality of human capabilities or behavior. Scientists today find that reliance on such folk beliefs about human differences in research has led to countless errors. At the end of the 20th century, we now understand that human cultural behavior is learned, conditioned into infants beginning at birth, and always subject to modification. No human is born with a built-in culture or language. Our temperaments, dispositions and personalities, regardless of genetic propensities, are developed within sets of meanings and values that we call “culture.” Studies of infant and early childhood learning and behavior attest to the reality of our cultures in forming who we are. It is a basic tenet of anthropological knowledge that all normal human beings have the capacity to learn any cultural behavior. The American experience with immigrants from hundreds of different language and cultural backgrounds who have acquired some version of American culture traits and behavior is the clearest evidence of this fact. Moreover, people of all physical variations have learned different cultural behaviors and continue to do so as modern transportation moves millions of immigrants around the world. How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The racial world view was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power and wealth. The tragedy in the US has been that the policies and practices stemming from this world view succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans and peoples of African descent. Given what we know about the capacity of normal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called racial groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational and political circumstances.
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African American males are more likely to be killed or to go to prison in our society than they are to graduate from college. Without the tools for noticing that this is happening, we cannot begin to ask why. Without asking why, we cannot begin to do anything about it.22 On the one hand, our language about race and ethnicity is imprecise and often misleading. The very use of the term race seems to perpetuate a wrong-headed idea about human beings. Yet these seem to be the best tools we have for pointing out one huge category of problems that must be addressed if a school system seeks to serve democratic ideals. Those problems exist when children experience different educational outcomes not on the basis of their individual talents and interests but on the basis of their membership in a cultural group—whether that group is defined by race, ethnicity, family income, gender, or another characteristic. Even when the tools of language are clumsy, they are often sufficient to help us inquire into whether all children are receiving the educatio n they deserve in a democratic society. Put differently, race may not be a coherent concept, but racism is a real phenomenon. Ethnicity, Income, and Wealth If race and ethnicity were of no consequence in American society, we would not expect great differences in income among different racial and ethnic groups. Where income varied among individuals, we would expect the differences to be due not to race and ethnicity but to such factors as education and individual talents or interests. Where income varied among families, we would consider such factors as the number of income earners in the household. In fact, as Sheldon Danziger points out, educational differences do not explain very much of the disparity between income earnings among non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, and Hispanic individuals; correcting for educational differences does not eliminate most of the income differences.23 Other differences, such as age, region, and racial bias in employment and promotion practices, are among those which must be examined. Similarly, Andrew Hacker has found that the difference between the number of two-income White households and two-income Black households does not explain the large gap in household income between those two groups, especially because a higher percentage of Black married women than White married women work outside the home.24 What is most salient for our purposes here is that the income differences are very real for different racial and ethnic groups, and these income differences lead to different life chances for children in different groups. Further, family income correlates highly with school achievement, which means that children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families will tend to perform less well in school than do high-SES children. Harold Hodgkinson pointed out more than 15 years ago, for example, that high-SES African American eighth-graders perform better in an advanced mathematics than do low-SES White or Asian American eighth-graders.25 Given that SES and race interact in complex ways, income disparities among different ethnic groups can have great consequences for children. And income disparities among different racial and ethnic groups are significant in the United States today. The U.S. Bureau of the Census reported, for example: • While the income median of White families was well above the median household income of the United States overall ($57,073 in 2003 dollars), median earnings of African American and Hispanic families were much lower: respectively, $38,674 and $38,718.26 • Over 21 percent of White households earned over $100,000 in 2003, while 9 percent of African American households earned over $100,000 and 7 percent of Hispanic households of any race earn over $100,000.27 • At the opposite end of the income distribution, 12 percent of White households earn below $20,000, while 26 percent of African American households and 21 percent of Hispanics of any race earn below this figure. Only 15 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander households fall below this figure.28 • When family wealth is measured, which considers not just annual income but a family’s full financial assets, such as real estate and stocks, the differences are much greater. In 2001, White families had a median net worth of $117,722. African American families had a median net worth of $18,510 and for Latino families it was $11,149.29 • The poverty level in 2000 was established at $17,650, well under half the median household income for the nation. Among Asian/Pacific Islander families, 12 percent fell below poverty level, compared to 10 percent of White families. In contrast, 22 percent of Hispanics and 24 percent of African Americans fell into this poverty category.30
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among different ethnic groups, we should avoid the simple suggestion that the higher levels of education attained by Whites and Asian Americans provide the answer. It is instructive, for example, that while the education gaps between Blacks and Whites have steadily narrowed since the late 1960s, the poverty levels for Whites have remained between 9 and 11.3 percent, while for Blacks they have remained much higher, between 21 and 30 percent.31 Furthermore, Blacks and Hispanics with the same level of education as Whites, whether a high school diploma or a college or graduate degree, continue to earn less than their White counterparts.32 The discouraging message here is that differences in employment and income are due to factors other than a person’s education. While additional education can create opportunities for individuals in all ethnic groups, the historical record shows that it is not likely in itself to overcome differences among groups as long as various forms of ethnic discrimination exist. Ethnicity and Employment Hacker shows that for the last 30 years unemployment rates for African Americans have remained steadily at two to two and a half times the unemployment rates for Whites. Again, we are tempted to look for an explanation in educational differences. But as Hacker tells us, African Americans with college degrees have even worse unemployment, compared to college-educated Whites, than African Americans who have only a high school diploma as compared to their White counterparts. Perhaps even more discouraging to African Americans is the comparison of their recent unemployment rates with those 20 or 30 years ago. In the 1960s, Black unemployment went above 11 percent only in one year and stayed at or below 8 percent for the last half of the decade. In the 1980s and early 1990s, despite dramatic educational increases for African Americans, Black unemployment rates never went below 11 percent and for most years hovered in the range of 14 to 18 percent.33 The message is that unemployment differentials, like income disparities, are dependent on socioeconomic conditions other than education. While additional education can create opportunities for individuals in all ethnic groups, it is not likely in itself to overcome differences among groups as long as various forms of discrimination based on ethnicity persist. Discrimination interacts with cultural practices and traditions differently in different ethnic groups. In the section on social theory and education in the next chapter, for example, we will see a theory suggesting a certain amount of resistance to school norms among children in some ethnic groups but not in others. A group’s cultural practices, together with how groups are differently perceived by people who hire and fire in the workplace, have different consequences for different groups. The nation’s unemployment rates for Whites and Asian/ Pacific Islanders in 2004, for example, were 4.5 and 6.3 percent, respectively. Regarded as the “model minority” by employers as well as by some educators, Asian/Pacific Islanders do not encounter the sort of discrimination directed against African Americans or Hispanics, the unemployment rates for whom in 2004 were 10.7 and 7.0 percent, respectively.34 Such data tell us some important differences among groups but obscure important differences within groups. For example, the relatively high household income levels cited above for Asian/Pacific Islanders hide differences among different Asian groups. A 2006 study, for example, shows that median family income in the United States ranged from $70,849 for Japanese and $70,708 for Asian Indians to about half that for Cambodians and Hmong. Among “Hispanics,” unemployment rates for Puerto Rican men tend to be double those for Cuban American men.35 The general labels Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander can cause us to overlook important cultural and economic differences among the many different groups comprised by them. Similarly, discouraging data about Black poverty and unemployment can obscure the reality of the growing Black middle class, which has more in common with the White middle class than with the Black underclass in terms of economics, employment, and educatio n. Ethnicity and Family We are learning from many quarters that changes in the American family affect all ethnic groups, but some more severely than others. The great majority of the 17.5 million children living in single -parent households, for example, are White nonHispanic. It might seem, therefore, that information on the changing family structure in our society might better be discussed as a subtopic of economic class or gender rather than ethnicity. We mention family characteristics here largely because of the particular significance that single-parent families have for African American children. For 80 years, from 1880 to 1960, the proportion of Black children living with a single parent held steady around 30 percent, according to the new research by the University of Minnesota. During the same time, the proportion of White children living with only one parent
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stayed at about 10 percent. But in recent years, those figures have climbed—to 63 percent for Black children and 19 percent for White children. In data averaging from 2000 to 2002, 25 percent of White children were living in low-income or poverty-level families. This figure is 58 and 62 percent for African American and Latino families, respectively. The federal poverty level is $18,400 per family of four. Low income is below 200 percent of that level.36 As Hodgkinson notes about correlations between poverty and single-parent families, “when both parents work, family income does not double; it trip les.”37 Single-parent families are thus a significant reason that over 8.3 million White children, 4.6 million Black children, and nearly 3 million Hispanic children were listed as living in poverty in 1991 by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Put in percentages, 16.1 percent of White nonHispanic children, 45.6 percent of African American children, and 39.8 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 1991. There is little doubt that these deep economic differences will contribute to different educational and life outcomes for these children.38 Some of these life opportunities are eliminated very early, even before birth. Hodgkinson reports that onefourth of pregnant mothers receive no medical care during the crucial first trimester of pregnancy, when some 20 percent of disabilities might have been prevented by early prenatal care.39 The United States has the highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation, due significantly to the effects of racism and poverty on African Americans. African American infants die at a rate twice that of White infants, and in some inner-city areas (such as Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia), infant mortality rates exceed those in Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Chile.40 Compared with White children, African American children are twice as likely to be born prematurely, suffer low birth weight, live in poor housing, have no parent employed, and see a parent die. Compared with White children, African American children are three times more likely to be poor, live in a female-headed family, be placed in an educable mentally handicapped (EMH) class in school, die of known child abuse, and have their mothers die in childbirth.41 Ethnicity and Housing Half the nation’s African Americans are concentrated into just 25 major metropolitan areas. Two-thirds of all African American youth still attend segregated schools.42 Patterns of segregation in housing nationwide have changed surprisingly little in the past 30 years despite the rise of a highly visible African American middle class and laws aimed at desegregating society. The job market has changed, however, shrinking the middle class by eliminating manufacturing jobs and shifting many of the remaining jobs away from the central city to the suburbs or overseas to sources of cheap labor. Many African Americans in the inner city have been left behind without jobs and without opportunities for upward mobility. The breakdown of the family, the exit of African American professionals from the inner city, the erosion of the tax base, and the increase in drug use, violence, and crime have all served to leave the inner city a disastrous place to grow up. By the early 1990s housing and employment problems had actually worsened as the Bush administration tightened budgetary restraints on social spending. For the purposes of illustrating socioeconomic inequalities, many of the examples presented here have contrasted African Americans with non-Hispanic Whites. This is partly because of the status of African Americans as the largest American ethnic minority group but also because discrimination against African Americans is uniquely grounded in a history of enslavement and subsequent related prejudice and oppression. As Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote in an open letter to her own children: It is utterly exhausting being black in America— physically, mentally, and emotionally. While many minority groups and women feel similar stress, there is no respite or escape from your badge of color. . . . It can be exhausting to be a Black student on a “white” campus or a Black employee in a “white” institution where some assume you are not as smart as comparable whites. The constant burden to “prove” that you are as smart, as honest, as interesting, as wide-gauging and motivated as any other individual tires you out.43 While the African American experience in the United States has been distinctively oppressive, the fastest-growing minority groups in the nation are Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans, groups with great internal variation that are affected by different kinds of discrimination. More will be said about Asian Americans and Hispanics as we move later to the issues of education and ethnicity. Gender Originally, political representation in America excluded women. The family rather than the individual was assumed to be the political unit, and men represented the family unit. Remaining single for men and for women
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was discouraged by social censure and at times by political and economic means as well. As documented in Chapter 5, paternalistic social arrangements drawn from European society dated back through medieval times to the classical formulations of Greece and Rome. Paternalism refers to a male-dominated social arrangement embedded in traditional family, state, and church structures. When the purpose of education is seen as preparing individuals for places in society, there are clear implication s for the education of females in a male-controlled society. Although the proportion of women completing high school and college and ascending to positions of responsibility, power, and wealth has increased dramatically since the days when women were legally subordinate to men, significant differences still exist between the conditions and experiences of modern men and women. A closer look at some of these differences will establish a foundation for later discussions of gender issues in American education. Gender and Employment Most people, men and women, feel that an occupation is important to their well-being. In a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education 20 years ago, 84 percent of males and 77 percent of females indicated that being successful in work was far more meaningful to them than having a high income. Furthermore, most of those surveyed felt that a woman could successfully balance career aspirations and family obligations. And an impressive 98 percent of the respondents felt that a woman should have exactly the same educational opportunities as a man.44 Almost as many felt that women should have the same pay for equal work as well as the same opportunity for management and other positions of responsibility. In attitude at least, the public seems to have adjusted to the notion that women are entitled to equality in the workplace. Most women felt that the equal rights movement had made their lives better. One important trend is clear: Women of all races are closing the education gap with men, and in some cases outperforming men in completing college.45 This is expected to have a significant effect on who gets hired for which jobs in the future, even if employment discrimination persists. There seems to be a “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching the top positions in the economic world, although it does not prevent women from seeing the top echelon. Most commentators agree that this barrier has been constructed by the materials of gender discrimination rather than by any inherent deficiency in women. Nevertheless, some gains are clearly visible. Women have entered into the ranks of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals in numbers unparalleled in previous generations. Between 1972 and 1990, the proportion of lawyers who were women rose from 4 to 21 percent. In the same period, the proportion of women physicians nearly doubled, to 19 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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Despite these gains, many occupations remain predominantly female. Dental hygienists, preschool and elementary teachers, secretaries, receptionists, practical nurses, day care workers, domestic servants, typists, dressmakers, registered nurses, dietitians, speech therapists, teacher’s aides, and bank tellers are still over 93 percent female, and some of these jobs are nearly 100 percent female. Some 59 percent of all female workers are employed in sales, clerical, and service work. Conversely, some jobs remain over 95 percent male: loggers, auto mechanics, tool-and-die makers, skilled building tradesmen, millwrights, engineers, mechanical engineers, aircraft mechanics, carpenters, civil engineers, industrial engineers, welders and cutters, machinists, and sheet metal workers. And of course, in the U.S. Congress, males constitute the overwhelming majority of the senators and representatives who make the laws of the land. Gender and Income Income differences between men and women have persisted since the beginning of the industrial era. That gap had been shrinking until recently. In 1980, for example, full-time year-round women workers earned 60 percent of what men earned, while in 1991 women earned 70 percent of men’s salaries. But in 2006, full-time year-round working women earned 70.7 percent of men’s salaries, which is essentially zero progress in 15 years. This rate of progress would not be encouraging to millions of women who are heads of their households.46 More recently, Census Bureau data give us more detailed ways to examine male–female income differences. For example, in 2006 the majority of full-time women workers earned less than $35,000 annually, while only 37 percent of men earned such a low salary. At the other end of the scale, more than 20 percent of men earned $75,000 or above, a figure surpassed by some experienced teachers in well-funded school districts. Nationwide, 6.3 percent of women make that amount or more. Perhaps more distressing is that women with a college degree make less than men who did not graduate from college, and women with a graduate degree make less than men who only graduated from college.47 Gender and Parenting The 56.5 million working women in America represent 45 percent of the entire labor force over age 16, and over 10 million of these women are heads of households. Having children can be economically dangerous for working women, since the United States is the only Western democracy that fails to protect the careers of young working mothers. By the mid-1980s, for example: • Swedish working women received a nine-month maternity leave at 90 percent of pay. • Italian working women received a five-month maternity leave at 80 percent of pay. • Hungarian working women received 20 weeks’ leave at 100 percent of pay. In 1992, Shapiro reported that the United States was the only industrialized nation without a mandated maternity leave policy; paid leave at 60 to 100 percent of salary is the norm in most of the other nations. In 1993, the United States passed the Family Medical Leave Act, which partly closed the gap with other nations by providing workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for specified family medical emergencies. U.S. employers continued to resist paying for advanced education and additional training for female employees on the grounds that they may subsequently have children and quit. This ignores the fact that male employees also quit: Men change jobs every seven years on average and are encouraged to do so to keep from stagnating.48 Since the 1990s, maternity leave has increased in other nations. USA Today recently reported that Canadian women can receive up to 14 months of family leave, with up to a year in Australia. USA Today reports: “Out of 168 nations in a Harvard University study last year, 163 had some form of paid maternity leave, leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.”49 By 2006, reports the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only 8 out of 100 companies offered the full 12 weeks encouraged by the 1993 law, while 14 out of 100 offered 2 weeks or less. Sixty-two percent of the 100 best companies for working mothers offered 6 weeks or less, half what the law encourages.50 Why does the United States lag so far behind the rest of the industrialized world in supporting women’s time off for infant care? Students are invited to reflect together on what dimensions of ideology and political economy in the United States best explain such differences. Socioeconomic Class Socioeconomic class is an arbitrary designation intended to group people whose social interests coincide by virtue of similar levels of wealth, income, power, occupational responsibility, social prestige, and cultural identity.
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Although it is difficult to establish criteria separating one class from another, the notion of class is still useful for noting group differences. As we saw in Chapter 4, the dominant ideology of American society derives from an essentially middle-class, Enlightenment vision of progress which holds that rational people can control their own destiny and get what they deserve. Some social critics now charge that this vision is deeply flawed. The world is not as rational as was once believed, nor is human society so easily perfected. These critics also maintain that modern liberalism cannot protect the interests of certain groups in society. The values and worldview of one class do not necessarily apply to people situated elsewhere in the social structure. The myth that virtually all Americans are middle class obscures what the numbers say. It neatly hides the fact that a small percentage at the top is fabulously wealthy and obscures the reasons why a disproportionate number of people at the bottom are truly distressed. Finally, our long-cherished faith in social mobility is not very well supported by the evidence. Class structure tends to be more rigid than most of us realize or care to admit. This rigidity has been maintained partly in the interest of social stability.51 The news media do depict a poverty class, but all too often as a problem of minority populations. Although African American poverty rates are three times White poverty rates, White non-Hispanics still account for 23.7 million of the more than 40 million people living in poverty in the United States. And though 32.7 percent of African Americans and 28.7 percent of Hispanics live in poverty, most members of both groups do not. Still, poverty is a problem that hits ethnic minorities and women, as well as the young, at disproportionate rates.52 These poverty rates are particularly disturbing on two counts: their stability over time and their resistance to the increasing educational attainment of all the groups involved. After 1969, for example, White poverty rates increased from 9.5 to 11.3 percent in 1991. During that period African American poverty rates remained essentially stable: In 1969 poverty among Blacks stood at 32.2 percent, and in 1991 it was 32.7 percent. Since 1975, when the government began keeping records on Hispanics, the Hispanic poverty rate remained relatively stable at about 27 to 29 percent, with some slightly better years in the late 1970s. It would appear that in economic periods, good and bad, poverty is a fact of life for large segments of American society, particularly minority populations. Yet for all three of these broad population groups, the educational levels have improved considerably since 1969–1970. White high school graduation rates since then have increased from 54 to 81 percent, while White poverty has increased. Black high school graduation rates have increased from 31 to over 67 percent, while poverty has not abated. And Hispanic graduation rates have increased from 37 to 52 percent, while poverty among Hispanics has slightly deepened.53 Class, Income, and Power If the middle class is defined by income level, it is shrinking. However, if it is defined according to the percentage of white-collar jobs, it has grown overall, since many well-paid manufacturing jobs are being replaced with white-collar jobs at or near the minimum wage. Perhaps the simplest and most common way to designate class is by income bracket. Many economists define the middle class by income levels between $25,000 and $100,000, which includes about 60 percent of the American population, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.54 But there is something very limiting about the emphasis on income shared by liberal and conservative treatments of class differences today. Although the concept of different “classes” of society goes back hundreds of years, and Ben Franklin used the term freely in describing how little class difference existed in American colonial society, a new conception of class was introduced in 1848. In that year, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels declared in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle,” which may be the most famous single remark on class in the history of social science.55 Marx and Engels had a view of class that was very much about power and conflict. It was at once an economic concept, defining classes in terms of who did the wage labor to produce goods versus who owned the production facilities and profits—and a power concept that emphasized the power of one class over the other, and the resulting conflicts between them (see Chapter 4). Within 100 years, Marx’s notion of class as the power of one economic group over another was essentially replaced in American social science. One example of this is W. Lloyd Warner’s 1949 book Social Class in America, subtitled A Manual of Procedure for the Measurement of Social Status. Warner replaced Marx’s two opposing classes with multiple gradations of class that would become known as socioeconomic status (SES): upper class, upper-middle class, lower-middle class, upper-lower/ class, and lower-lower class. These gradations were based
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on family income, educational attainment, occupation, and type and location of dwelling. The Marx–Engels notion of class was based on division of people into two classes according to their different places in the production of goods: either owning the means of production or working for those owners. The SES version is based more on the idea of people as consumers of goods, defined by their incomes, their purchases, and their ability to buy such social goods as education. Education: Ethnicity, Gender, and Class We now turn to the issue of social equity in schooling. Do schools promote the success of some members of society while hampering the success of others? Do schools uniformly serve the needs of all children, or do they contain mechanisms that subtly and systematically discriminate against some students? We do know, contrary to the conclusions of the Coleman Report, that schools in poor areas where academic achievement is low tend to be poorly staffed, overcrowded, underfunded, undersupplied, and wrought with physical and emotional dangers. These conditions represent one form of social inequity. Are there others, perhaps more subtle and even more effective in maintaining the status quo? Are there fundamental differences in the way African American, White, Indian, Latino, or Asian children experience the institution of schooling? Are there fundamental differences between the experiences of male and female, rich and poor? And do schools provide equitable treatment to students who are judged to have physical or psychological disabilities or handicapping conditions? Let us begin this portion of our inquiry by returning to the general demographic categories described earlier to examine the outcomes of schooling for children according to racial and ethnic characteristics, gender, and class differences. Race, Ethnicity, and Education In examining the data on schooling, bear in mind the distinction between equality of results and equity of social conditions. Inherited talents and dispositions may vary from student to student, and so different outcomes can be expected for different students. What intrigues and disturbs social scientists is the situation in which whole groups of people systematically perform below the levels of other groups. We must question the institutional arrangements that produce unequal results for certain groups. We should also bear in mind that much progress has been made in spreading formal education to broader segments of society. This tells us that reform is not futile and that problems can be addressed. In 1900, for example, only about 10 percent of the population graduated from high school. In 1940, 24.5 percent graduated from high school and 4.6 percent completed college. In 1998, in one century’s time, 78 percent of White students graduated from high school, while 56 percent of African American students and 54 percent of Latino students graduated from high school.56 With each successive stage of formal schooling, the pool of minority students eligible for the next stage gets further reduced. About 38 percent of White students enter and 23 percent complete college; 29 percent of African American students enter and only 12 percent complete college. Notably, for African American students entering the nation’s 100 highest-ranked institutions, the graduation rate is over 40 percent.57 Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Native Amer icans complete college at the rate of roughly 9 percent of the population. Completion of graduate or professional school is 8 percent for White Americans, 4 percent for African Americans, and 2 percent each for Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans.58 Admission to higher education depends on standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT.59 These tests do not measure intelligence. They measure the acquisition of ideas, information, and patterns of thought that are representative of the dominant culture and, as such, are used as predictors of first-year success in college. What they correlate with most strongly is the economic background of the student, with some differences also attributable to gender and ethnicity.60 This economic variable helps account for the fact that the average SAT score of African American students is 200 points lower than that of White and Asian students on a scale ranging from 400 to 1600. Desegregation has not succeeded in bringing minority students into sufficient contact with the White majority—that is, with the culture that the system rewards. Both neighborhood segregation and school segregation result in isolation from a cultural norm whose values and icons are often different, for example, from those of the African American culture. The following details are illustrative: • Unbelievably, a recent Harvard study showed that racial segregation in America’s schools has been growing, not shrinking, since the 1980s.61
⦁ In 1968, when the United States first began to survey racial and ethnic population of its public schools, 80 percent of students were white. Today, 44 percent of public school children are minorities. School desegregation reached its peak over 20 years ago. In 1988, one-third of black students attended schools that were at least 90 percent black. Today, partly due to more a more conservative judiciary, 40 percent of black students attend such a school. Black and Latino children are more segregated in 2009 than they were at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. • Many desegregated schools display de facto in-school segregation. The upper-level courses enroll almost all White students, while the lower-level courses enroll mostly Latino and Black students. • And finally, while the percentage of minority students grows in American schools, and while segregation increases, most teachers are White, whether experienced or new to the profession. Despite a great deal of talk about increasing the diversity of the teaching profession in the past 20 years, more than 85 percent of all pre-K–12 teachers are White—a figure that has changed little over time.62 Given the significance of cultural differences and economic deprivation for school performance, it is not surprisingthat so many African American children encounter difficulty in schools and on standardized tests. But other ethnic groups also lag behind the performance of the non-Hispanic White majority in ways that must be attributed to socioeconomic factors rather than to native learning ability. Since the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, national concern about educational equity has focused largely on the education of African Americans, the second largest American minority group, behind Hispanics. In 2005, the nation’s minority population totaled 98 million, or 33 percent of the country’s total of 296.4 million. • Hispanics continue to be the largest minority group at 42.7 million. With a 3.3 percent increase in population from July 1, 2004, to July 1, 2005, they are the fastest-growing group. • The second largest minority group was Blacks (39.7 million), followed by: • Asians (14.4 million) • American Indians and Alaska natives (4.5 million) • Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (990,000) • The population of Non-Hispanic Whites who indicated no other race totaled 198.4 million in 2005. Of the national population increase of 500,000 in 2005, about 300,000 was because of natural increase, with 200,000 attributed to immigration.63 Because the track record of American schools in dealing with some minority groups has not been good, the challenge to educators in the next 10 years is considerable.
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Already, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.9 million U.S. households, or 3.2 percent of the nation’s total, are linguistically isolated, meaning that “no person above age 14 speaks English fluently.” Of these households, 1.6 million speak Spanish and 0.5 million speak an Asian language. The greatest growth since 1980 has been in Asian languages, which are now 4 of the top 10 spoken. Chinese has doubled, and Korean and Vietnamese have more than doubled; with the addition of Tagalog (spoken in the Philippines), they represent over 3 million people. Nationwide, 13.8 percent of all residents speak a language other than English at home.64 The Model Minority Historian Ronald Takaki writes that “today, Asian Americans are celebrated as America’s ‘model minority.’ ” Takaki cites feature stories in Fortune and the New Republic applauding Asian Americans as “America’s Super Minority” and “America’s greatest success story.” Takaki objects to this characterization as inaccurate, however. “In their celebration of this ‘model minority,’ the pundits and the politicians have exaggerated Asian American ‘success’ and have created a new myth. . . . Actually, in terms of personal incomes, Asian Americans have not reached equality.” Income inequalities among Asian American men were evident in Takaki’s data: Korean men earned only 82 percent of the income of White men, Chinese men 69 percent, and Filipino men 62 percent.65 Takaki explains: The patterns of income inequality for Asian men reflect a structural problem: Asians tend to be located in the labor market’s secondary sector, where wages are low and promotional prospects minimal. Asian men are clustered as janitors, machinists, postal clerks, technicians, waiters, cooks, gardeners, and computer programmers; they can also be found in the primary sector, but here they are found mostly in the lower-tier levels.66 Takaki notes that although they are highly educated, Asian Americans are generally not represented in positions of executive leadership and decision making. A comment that appeared in the Wall Street Journal is telling: “Many Asian Americans hoping to climb the corporate ladder face an arduous ascent. Ironically, the same companies that pursue them for technical jobs often shun them when filling managerial and executive positions.”67 We are reminded that Asians have a long history of discrimination in the United States, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1880s and the imprisonment of Japanese American citizens during World War II. Counter to the view that Asian Americans are uniformly successful in school, a Seattle study showed that one-fifth of the school population was Asian American and that as a whole over 39 percent of this group scored in the “at risk” category on the district’s standardized reading test, about the same as the Hispanic students. Some Asian American subgroups, notably the Vietnamese, Samoan, and Southeast Asian students, did appreciably worse than the Hispanic students in reading and language skills together, while other groups, such as the Japanese and Chinese, did nearly as well as or better than the White American students.68 The effects of economic, cultural, and linguistic differences are further revealed in the 1993 study, Adult Literacy in America. This massive inquiry shows White non-Hispanic adults to be significantly more proficient in all three literacy areas under investigation than all other population groups, including African Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and five different groupings of Hispanic origin.69 As we have seen, a term such as “Asian American” can usefully draw our attention to a general classification of people even if there are significant differences among cultural histories within that larger classification. Those cultural histories need further attention. Historian Sucheng Chan notes that almost a million people from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India came to the United States and Hawaii from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s (in contrast to 35 million European immigrants from 1850 to 1930). Of those Asian and Pacific immigrants, the Chinese (about 370,000) came first, pushed out by poverty and strife in China and attracted by California gold and jobs in Canada and the American West. Next, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, about 400,000 Japanese came, followed by 180,000 Filipinos and less than 10,000 Koreans. They were recruited by Hawaiian sugar plantation owners who needed thousands of workers, and these workers and their families often migrated east to the United States, which soon created an independent flow of immigration from the Asian and Pacific countries.70 These immigrants, like immigrants from Europe, took jobs, started businesses, sent their children to school, and over time began to assimilate into the mainstream culture, language, and values while still retaining some cultural values and practices from their home countries. After a sharp reduction in Chinese and Japanese immigration brought about by the world wars and the subsequent cold war, Europeans, Canadians, and Mexicans constituted the great majority of new immigrants to the
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United States. Then a new source of Asian American immigration developed during and after the war in Vietnam. The 1965 Immigration Act and its amendments, the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, the 1980 Refugee Act, and the 1987 Amerasian Homecoming Act have facilitated increased immigration from Southeast Asia. Since 1965, Asian/Pacific immigration has increased to the point where it now constitutes half of all immigration into the United States.71 Today, the fastest-growing minority group in the nation is Asian and Pacific Americans, more than doubling in size since 1980. It is projected to more than double again by 2020, resulting in an Asian/Pacific population of nearly 20 million in the United States (see Table 12.2). By the early 1990s there were nearly 2 million Asian American children and youth between the ages of 5 and 19 in school in the United States, with heavy concentrations of that population in major cities, where Asian languages are spoken in the home and the community. Interestingly, it was the 1970 class action suit brought by Kinney Lau and 11 other Chinese American students against Alan Nichols and the San Francisco Board of Education that led to the historic Supreme Court case Lau v. Nichols. The Court’s ruling provided the basis for the nation’s bilingual education mandates, which in turn have had a profound effect on the education of Hispanic Americans. The Court unanimously ruled that there is no equality of treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers, and curriculum; for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any meaningful education.72 The public at large, and perhaps some educators as well, perceive Asian Americans to be high achievers in school, students who don’t need the support of the courts. We have seen, however, that different Asian American groups perform differently in school, and language can be an element of the problem for some students. It will be important for educators not to make assumptions about the growing number of Asian American students in their schools and classrooms other than that all children will need our best educational support. The Asian American experience has been a difficult one even when success is apparent for some families. As Chan writes: Thus the acculturation process experienced by Asians in America has run along two tracks: even as they acquired the values and behavior of Euro-Americans, they simultaneously had to learn to accept their standing as racial minorities —people who, because of their skin color and physiognomy, were not allowed to enjoy the rights and privileges given acculturated European immigrants and native-born Americans. In short, if they wished to remain and to survive in the United States, they had to learn how to “stay in their place” and to act with deference toward those of higher racial status. . . . Asian Americans, more so than black or Latino Americans, live in a state of ambivalence—lauded as a “successful” or “model minority” on the one hand, but subject to continuing unfair treatment, including occasional outbursts of racially motivated violence, on the other.73
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• The Asian population rose by 3 percent, or 421,000 people, between 2004 and 2005. • Of the increase of 421,000 in the Asian population between 2004 and 2005, 182,000 was because of natural increase and 239,000 was attributed to immigration. • The Asian population in 2005 was younger, with a median age of 33.2 years compared to the population as a whole at 36.2 years. About 26 percent of the Asian population was under 18, compared with 25 percent of the total population.74 Hispanic American Diversity Just as it is an error to generalize about the experience of all 17 different Asian immigrant groups now part of the American culture, it is a mistake to think of “Hispanic” as describing a single people. As Holli and Jones write: Hispanic is an umbrella term encompassing Spanishspeaking people of different races and twenty separate nationalities. Hispanics come from as far as Uruguay, at the edge of South America, or as near as Texas, once a part of Mexico. Some have been here since the First World War, while others arrived only yesterday. They include high skilled professionals, political refugees trying to regain what they have lost, and peasants who never had much to lose. They share a language and a culture.75 These regional differences remind us of the very different cultural histories of different Hispanic groups. While Cubans began making their presence felt in the 20th century, for example, most heavily immigrating after the communist revolution in Cuba in 1959, Mexican Americans had a long history in the Southwest before it became the southwestern United States. Thousands from Texas to California did not immigrate to the United States at all but found themselves inside this nation’s borders when their lands were conquered. It has sometimes been said of that historically Mexican population that they did not cross the border but the border crossed them. Yet people readily assume that most Mexican Americans and other Hispanics are immigrants, if not “illegal aliens.” However, three-fourths of the Hispanic population in this country was born in the United States.76 Different Hispanic groups have very different migration histories. They have come from different parts of the hemisphere—North America (Mexico), Central America, the Carribean (Puerto Rico and Cuba), and South America—and they have tended to concentrate in different parts of the United States. Carrasquillo writes: In general, Mexicans settled in the southwest, the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in the northeast, the Cubans
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Americans have spread out in the United States with large numbers found in the west and south (Nicaraguans) and in the northeast (Colombians, Peruvians and Ecuadorians) of the United States.77 Immigration and migration patterns have had a profound impact on the U.S. population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-fifth of Americans, or 47 million U.S. residents aged 5 and older, spoke a language other than English at home in 2000. That was an increase of 15 million people since 1990, and most of them were Spanish speakers. Spanish speakers increased from 17.3 million in 1990 to 28.1 million in 2000, a 62 percent rise.78 And in 2008, the Official Census Bureau count is that the Hispanic population has reached 45 million in the U.S., 15 percent of the population. Then in 2006, the Census Bureau released data on the most comprehensive survey of immigration in the United States ever performed. Immigrants living in U.S. households increased by 16 percent, to a current total of 35.7 million foreign-born residents in the country. The dramatic increase is from 2000 to 2005, with many newcomers moving to states that traditionally have not had many immigrants. The number of immigrants living in American households rose 16 percent, fueled largely by recent arrivals from Mexico, according to fresh data released by the Census Bureau.79 Despite their common language and some shared cultural practices and despite their grouping under the designation “Hispanic” for political purposes, differences among these cultures are significant. Referring to the Hispanic experience in Chicago, where half a million Hispanics reside, Holli and Jones write: As a result of migration history, each Hispanic group holds deeply felt concerns and attitudes not shared by others. For example, many Cubans share a strong anticommunist sentiment reflected in several organizations formed to oppose Cuban leader Fidel Castro. . . . Cubans, therefore, are suspicious of communist influences in the community-based development efforts that are prevalent in Mexican and Puerto Rican areas. . . . Immigrants from Cuba and South America, because many are affluent, are dismissed by some Mexicans and Puerto Ricans as not really Hispanic.80 Such social class differences can influence the experiences of Hispanic children in schools. Those from the lower economic rungs are all too often struggling academically even if they are born in this country. As Laura E. Perez points out in quoting the National Council of La Raza, Hispanic undereducation has reached crisis proportions. By any standard, Hispanics are the least educated major population in the United States; Hispanic students are more likely to be enrolled below grade level, more likely to drop out, less likely to be enrolled in college, and less likely to receive a college degree than any other group.81 Yet Perez notes different experiences of different subgroups within the Hispanic population and notes that the largest group, Chicanas and Chicanos (Americans of Mexican descent) have the lowest educational attainment. Cubans, in contrast, have the highest, with Puerto Ricans falling closer to the Mexican Americans. The low educational attainment is paralleled by low socioeconomic measures for the Mexican American community. The per capita income cited by Perez for Mexican Americans is about 60 percent that of Whites, and about 38 percent of Mexican American children live in poverty. Perez cites research showing that “Chicanao primary and secondary students are in significant disproportion held back grades and tracked into programs for slow learners or the mentally retarded or ‘special’ inferior academic or vocational tracks.”82 Not only economic class differences but language differences as well influence the school experiences of Hispanic young people. Limited English Proficiency (LEP) refers to a level of listening/speaking and/or reading/ writing in English that is not at or near native-level proficiency, and by far the largest group of these in the United States is Spanish-speaking. Cisneros and Leone report that of the 2.2 million LEP students in U.S. schools, federal bilingual program funds are provided only for 251,000 of them, or about 11 percent. These authors believe that bilingual programs would assist LEP students’ success in schools and that the problem of developing a sound bilingual educational policy will increase as numbers of LEP students rise in the coming years. If the data cited by Cisneros and Leone are reliable, as much as 20 percent of the population of the United States will be Hispanic by the year 2040, though it is not yet clear how many of these will be LEP. Table 12.3 indicates the 10 states with the highest LEP enrollments today. Chapter 13 will address the question of whether we are prepared to meet the challenge of educating these young people in our schools.
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Table 12.3 States with Highest LEP Enrollments and Increases What does the shift from the “Office of Bilingual Education” to “Office for English Language Acquisition” indicate about the policy and ideological drift from the Clinton to Bush administration? Discuss. Thinking Critically about the Issues #2 Historical Context For the purposes of studying Chapter 12, you might ask of each decade: Which events have the most direct significance for the issues of teaching different social groups of children for different educational outcomes discussed in this chapter? 1960s 1960 Six years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision against school segregation, the modern “sit-in” movement begins when four Black students from North Carolina A&T College sit at a “Whites-only” Woolworth’s lunch counter and refuse to leave when denied service 1960 President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which acknowledges the federal government’s responsibility in matters involving civil rights 1961 Michael Harrington publishes The Other America, revealing widespread poverty in the United States 1962 The All-African Organization of Women is founded to discuss the right to vote, activity in local and national governments, women in education, and medical services for women 1962 The Supreme Court orders the University of Mississippi to admit student James H. Meredith; Ross Barnett, the governor of Mississippi, tries unsuccessfully to block Meredith’s admission 1963 More than 200,000 marchers from all over the United States stage the largest protest demonstration in the history of Washington, DC; the “March on Washington” procession moves from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial; Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech 1963 Medgar Evers, field secretary for the NAACP, is killed outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi 1964 Civil Rights Act passes Congress, guaranteeing equal voting rights to African Americans 1964 Head Start, U.S. educational program for low-income preschool children, is established 1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed Diversity and Equity Today—Defining the Challenge Socioeconomic Class and Education Thomas Toch has observed that the links between family economic status and school labeling are significant: By far, the nation’s economically disadvantaged students pay the highest price for the pervasiveness of tracking in public education. . . . In other words, disadvantaged students [as measured by an index that includes parental income and education, parental occupation, and the presence of consumer goods in a household] are three times less likely to be in the academic track than affluent students are, but three times more likely than affluent students to be in the vocational track.83 Social class may prove to be a more effective determinant of future opportunities than either race or gender. With the breakdown of housing segregation, minority families that succeed financially can now move into the suburbs, where their children will experience life very much as the children of White middle-class families do. And girls born into middle- and upper-class families now tend to experience a climate more supportive of personal autonomy and professional aspirations than did their mothers and grandmothers. In the case of poor and working-class children, however, the evidence strongly indicates that neither the processes nor the outcomes of schooling are the same as they are for children of the upper classes. Social scientists are now exploring several evident patterns. Children who are poor tend to go to schools with other children who are poor. Minority students attend school with other minority students of similar socioeconomic
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United Farm Workers strike 1966 The Medicare Act, Housing Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a new immigration act, and voting-rights legislation are enacted 1966 Black Panther Party founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy are assassinated 1968 Bilingual Education Act passed 1968 American Indian Movement (AIM) launched 1968 Alicia Escalante forms East Los Angeles Welfare Rights Organization, the first Chicano welfare rights group 1969 The Stonewall rebellion in New York City marks the beginning of the gay rights movement 1970s 1971 Busing to achieve racially balanced schools is upheld by the Supreme Court 1972 Title IX Educational Amendment passed, outlawing sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal financial assistance 1973 Native Americans defy federal authority at Wounded Knee, South Dakota 1975 Congress passes Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) 1978 In University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court disallows a quota system in university admissions but gives limited approval to affirmative action plans 1980s 1980 One million African American students enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States 1980 Ronald Reagan is elected president, promising to reverse the “liberal trends in government” 1982 Equal Rights Amendment fails to win state ratification 1984 Reverend Jesse Jackson becomes first African American to challenge for major party nomination for president 1986 New Hampshire teacher Christa McAulliffe killed along with six astronauts when space shuttle Challenger explodes on national TV 1990s 1991 Unemployment rate rises to highest level in a decade 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act, the most sweeping antidiscrimination legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guarantees equal access for people with disabilities 1993 Pentagon rules “don’t ask, don’t tell”: gays and lesbians may serve in military but may not proclaim or openly practice their sexual orientation 1994 Number of prisoners in state and federal prisons tops 1 million, giving United States the highest incarceration rate in the world 1995 Supreme Court rules against any affirmative action program that is not “narrowly tailored” to accomplish a “compelling government interest” 1996 Census Bureau reports that the gap between the richest 20 percent of Americans and everyone else reached postwar high 1996 Clinton signs welfare reform legislation, ending more than 60 years of federal cash assistance to the poor and replacing it with block grants to states to administer 1996 Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages 2000s 2001 The No Child Left Behind Act expands the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education 2001 A Massachusetts company announces the first-ever clone of a human embryo 2002 Republican Trent Lott, recently chosen as Senate Majority Leader, left office because of remarks that appeared to many to be supportive of racial segregation 2003 Millions of demonstrators around the world take to the streets to protest the planned U.S. invasion of Iraq 2003 In an attempt to stem the widespread practice of Internet filesharing, the recording industry files 261 lawsuits against people of all ages 2003 By a vote of 5–4, the Supreme Court upheld an affirmative action program providing preference to minority candidates for admission to the University of Michigan law school; by a vote of 6–3, however, the Court rejected undergraduate admissions policies that favored ethnic minorities using a numerical formula 2006 The U.S. Census Bureau releases data on the most comprehensive survey of immigration in the United States ever performed; the number of immigrants living in American households rose 16 percent in five years, fueled largely by recent arrivals from Mexico, and dispersing to areas across the United States other than traditional centers of
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2008 In U.S. presidential primary elections, the last two candidates vying for the Democratic party nomination, for the first time in history, are an African American man (Barack Obama) and a woman (Hillary Clinton); another prominent Democratic contender was former governor Bill Richardson, a Latino; this is hailed as evidence of dramatic progress for women and for minority populations in the United States, but candidates and commentators observe that the campaign repeatedly surfaces issues of race and gender discrimination in the country Thinking Analytically about the Timeline Knowing what you do about economic, social, and educational inequality today, how successful was the activisim of the 1960s in the effort to achieve equality among different social groups? Using evidence from this chapter, evaluate the validity of this statement: The demographic and educational data on Asian Americans suggest that educational and social equity efforts should be focused on other ethnic groups, such as African Americans and Hispanics. Thinking Critically about the Issues #3 background. The suburbs, where the wealth tends to be located, are not part of the general tax base that supports inner-city schools, and so there is little or no cross-fertilization of resources or equalization of conditions. The “better” schools get more qualified teachers and the best science labs, computer systems, reading materials, and other resources. Poor children are not expected to be as smart or to work as hard as middle- and upper-class children. They are not expected to know as much or learn as much. They are not expected to do as well in life.84 These lower expectations lead to differential treatment by teachers. Parents of upper- and middle-class standing are more likely to become involved in the process of their children’s education. They tend to feel welcome in the school environment and to feel that they are equipped to make a contribution.85 Conversely, the parents of lower-class children tend to feel alienated from their children’s schools and education. The cultural patterns and icons of poor and working-class children are different from those of the dominant class, are not a part of the school’s culture, are not rewarded, and are not generally understood by teachers whose background differs from that of the students. Disputes over bilingual education further illustrate the separation of culture between schools and their minority students.86 Chapter 13 will revisit bilingual education as a response to the needs of LEP students. Equity, Education, and Disabling Conditions We have seen how membership in an ethnic or economic group can influence how individuals in that group perform and are evaluated and rewarded in schools and in the larger society. Questions of equity arise, as noted early in the chapter, when individuals’ standing in school or society seems to be influenced by their group membership rather than by their individual merits. Such questions apply to children and adults with physically or psychologically disabling conditions. It is not always clear whether such individuals are allowed to succeed on the basis of their own merits, especially when they are labeled and treated as a group for whom expectations of success are lower than for others who have not been so labeled and grouped. In 1975 Congress sought to address such equity questions with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA). As Judith Singer and John Butler write: Hailed as a “Bill of Rights” for children with handicaps, the law outlined a process whereby all children, regardless of the severity of their handicap, were assured the same educational rights and privileges accorded their nonhandicapped peers: “a free appropriate public education.” EHA was to transform special education practice across the nation by bringing all states up to the standard that some states, prompted by court action and advocacy by handicapped rights groups, already had adopted.87 One result of this act, for reasons soon to be mentioned, has been to increase the number of students designated by the schools as disabled. Currently, 4.3 million students out of a total K–12 public school population of over 47 million students have been designated as students with some sort of special needs. Between 1991 and 2002 there was a 35 percent increase in the number of children designated as “special needs,” adjusted for
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physical challenges—sightlessness, cerebral palsy, or another multidisabling condition—but the growth of the learning-disabled category suggests that some students are being labeled as disabled who in another social environment might not be perceived as different from other children. Yet with extra funding tied to the identification of students as disabled, there is an incentive for well-meaning educators to label students in ways that might prove damaging. Toch addresses both the labeling and the incentive issues as follows: There is a powerful stigma attached to “special education” in the school culture; to be labeled a learning disabled student in a public school is to suffer the disparagement of peers and teachers alike. And rarely do students who have been labeled learning disabled return to the mainstream of school life. Indeed, since schools receive additional funding for learning-disabled students, . . . they have an incentive to continue classifying a student as “LD.”92 Another incentive for schools to identify more students as learning disabled is that the performance scores of these students will then not be averaged into those of the school district when standards of accountability are implemented as part of the educational reform movement. Even the U.S. Education Department has issued a warning that raised standards may be “exaggerating the tendency to refer difficult children to special education.”93 Gender and Education94 We have discussed how race, ethnicity, economic class, and disabling conditions may influence the experience of schooling of different groups of students. The largest of all “minority” groups (often a majority) is females. In studying the relationship between gender and education, we need to ask, (1) Are the processes of education different for girls than for boys? and (2) Are the outcomes of schooling different for women than for men? The answer appears to be yes on both counts. During most of Western history, as we saw in Part 1, women were characterized differently from men and those characterizations were used to certify their inferior and subordinate status. Generally women were characterized as emotional, affectionate, empathetic, and more prone to sensual behavior. Men were characterized as rational, just, more directly in the “image of God,” and susceptible to seduction by women’s sensual intrigues. Thus, men were seen as naturally more fit for social and family leadership roles. Educational institutions and ideals usually reflected these male–female
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general enrollment increase. The largest and fastestgrowing of these categories throughout the 1980s was “learning disabled,” which grew from 32 percent of the special education population in 1980 to 46 percent by 1991. In 1991 there were 2,129,000 of 4,710,000 and in 2003 there were 2,846,000 of 6,407,000. That figure has remained stable between 1991 and 2003. According to the American Almanac, “speech impaired” was the next largest group, with 22.8 percent of special needs students in 1991, followed by “mentally retarded” (12.4 percent), “emotionally disturbed” (9.0 percent), and then several categories each with no more than 2.2 percent of the population of students designated with disabilities: hard of hearing and deaf, orthopedically handicapped, other health impaired, visually handicapped, multihandicapped, and deaf-blind.88 Education analyst Thomas Toch explains part of the reason why learning disabled has become the largest of these categories. First, it “has proven particularly hard to define.” Toch elaborates: The U.S. Department of Education’s definition of the term, “a disorder in one or more basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language spoken or written . . . ,” is broad. And it is only one of approximately fifty official but often vague and overlapping definitions of the term in use in public education today. As a result, in many school systems “learning disabled” has become a catchall category, and an increasing number of disadvantaged but otherwise “normal” students are being relegated to it, even though P.L. [Public Law] 94-142 prohibits inclusion in the category of students whose learning problems stem from “environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.”89 Even Madeleine C. Will, the U.S. Department of Education’s official in charge of special education between 1983 and 1989, acknowledged that the “misclassification” of learning-disabled students has become a “great problem.”90 Toch also cites Alan Gartner, a former director of special education in the New York City school system, who wrote, “The students in such programs are not held to common standards of achievement or behavior.” Toch elaborates, noting that “only rudimentary skills and topics are taught in classes for the learning disabled, homework is rarely if ever assigned, and the instructors for the learning disabled typically have little or no background in the academic subjects they teach.”91 The issue of labeling is a critical one in the delivery of services to children with disabling conditions, real or perceived. Certainly some children have such obvious
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characterizations. Consequently, women were often relegated to education at the mother’s side rather than in schools. learned at other life stages. It is important to understand that individuals are not entirely passive recipients in this socialization process. Each brings somewhat different experiences to the process. Thus, different individuals will learn slightly or even vastly different roles when exposed to the same socializing conditions. It is also vital to understand that the socialized roles and the resulting expectations become “reality” for individuals, groups, and society. For example, many 19th-century White southerners believed the role assignment to African American slaves that designated them as happy, passive, shiftless, lacking rationality, and needing direction. The fact that society or a group in society assigns a role to a particular group and believes the reality of that role does not make the role assignment natural, fair, or moral. Nevertheless, it does make it very difficult for anyone to renounce or reject it because one seems to be contradicting reality. The process of role socialization reflects what social theorists call “social construction of reality.” One of the factors that contributes to the strength of this social construction of reality regarding roles is that the content of a role always serves a social function. The role content assigned to African American slaves provided the structure of justification for slavery and for the labor system of the antebellum South. The fact that the role assignment serves some social function should not lead one to assume that it is therefore desirable or fair. This assumption is made especially often in the case of gender roles. Early in the 20th century George Herbert Mead and other social psychologists explained how an individual develops her or his sense of self primarily through inter action with groups. It is the way that others react to the individual which helps define that person’s identity. On a simpler level, the nursery story “The Ugly Duckling” demonstrates the process. As long as the baby swan was in the company of ducks who responded to her as if she were ugly, she believed and acted as if she were ugly. Only when she grew into a swan and was confronted with other swans who reacted to her as if she were truly beautiful did she change her understanding of herself. Unfortunately, for most humans it is much more difficult to move from the society of ducks to that of swans. Sex Roles in Infancy It is instructive to examine the messages contemporary American society provides for girls at every stage of their maturation. Barbara Sinclair Deckard provides a revealing account of social
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Societal Definitions of Gender Chapter 5 presented a historical account of exclusions and limitations on the education of girls and women in American schools and colleges. The central issue of female education in the last quarter of the 20th century was not de jure equal access to educational institutions and curricula. Girls and women are no longer denied equal access to education by law; indeed, since Congress enacted Title IX in 1972 and the subsequent Women’s Educational Equity Act in 1974, sex bias in school access, services, and programs has been illegal. However, women are still in practice excluded from educational opportunities through processes more subtle and complex than those prior to Title IX. This de facto exclusion of some women from educational opportunities revolves around gender definitions. The central issue in female education today is therefore the problems related to genderand the way those problems affect women’s selfconcept and academic performance. Sex refers to the biological characteristics of males and females; gender refers to societal expectations, roles, and limitations placed on a person because he or she is male or female. It is the socially sanctioned expectations and limitations, not the fact of biological sex differences, that cause the greatest difficulties for females in contemporary educational settings. Gender definitions compose a complex and sometimes subtle set of problems. The powerful impact of gender definitions may be more easily understood when one considers that gender definitions result in learned or socialized “roles.” Most of our social behavior stems from learned roles. There are roles associated with race, social class, occupations, and religion as well as gender. All humans begin to learn some of these roles almost at birth. Other roles are
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teractions that confront girls and from which girls must construct their self-identification: Before a newborn baby leaves the delivery room, a bracelet with its family name is put around its wrist. If the baby is a girl, the bracelet is pink; if a boy, the bracelet is blue. These different colored bracelets indicate the importance our society places on sex differences, and this branding is the first act in a sex role socialization process that will result in adult men and women being almost as different as we think they “naturally” are. . . . Perhaps because sex is such an obvious differentiating characteristic, almost all societies have sex roles. Women are expected to think and behave differently. The societal expectation and belief that women and men are very different tends to become a selffulfilling prophecy.95 These societal expectations strongly influence the way parents react to children. Deckard reports one study where parents described their girl babies as “significantly softer, finer featured, smaller, and less attentive than boy babies, even though there actually was no difference in the size or weight of the two sexes.” Another clinical study of college students’ descriptions of babies found that the students described a baby as “littler,” “weaker,” or “cuddlier” when informed that the baby was a girl.96 Thus, even at birth our evaluations of a baby are directed by social expectations of gender. Babies are brought home to a gender-directed colorcoded world. It is not that blue is better than pink but that all girls are seen as different from boys. This difference continues, according to Deckard, into early infancy as the child begins play activities. Parents encourage boys to take chances and develop independence, while girls are protected and shepherded toward dependence. Boys are praised for aggressiveness, and girls for willingness to take direction. Boys are counseled to be like Dad; girls, like Mom. Parents buy dump trucks for their sons and Barbie dolls for their daughters. Research indicates that these gender lessons are learned by children. At age 2 or 3 children use the terms boy and girl as “simple labels rather than the conceptual categories.” A year or so later they begin to view the sexes as opposite and distinguish between girls’ things and boys’ things. And by age 6 both girls and boys begin to enforce sex roles. “Boys more consistently choose and prefer sex-typed toys and activities, and these preferences accelerate with age throughout early childhood.”97 This seems to be the natural outcome of the fact that society generally values male roles and denigrates female roles. Children learn these gender values early. Lawrence Kohlberg found that among 5- and 6-year-old children, “Fathers are perceived as more powerful, punitive, aggressive, fearless, instrumentally competent and less nurturing than females. . . . Thus, power and prestige appear as one major attribute of children’s sex-role stereotypes.”98 Observers should not be surprised that one of the most hurtful epithets to be hurled at a boy is to call him a girl. Gender lessons are among the earliest and most powerful lessons of infancy and early childhood. Sex Roles in Early Education Sex roles continue to play a significant role in early education. When children enter preschool, they are confronted with constant reminders of gender differences. Kirsten Amundsen’s study found that teachers encouraged boys to be aggressive, assertive, and independent. Girls were discouraged when they exhibited daring or aggressiveness and were encouraged to be timid, cooperative, and quiet.99 Preschool classroom research shows that girls receive less instructional time, less affection, and less teacher attention than boys.100 This pattern continues in primary school. Studies have found that primary school teachers talk more to boys. They talk to boys even when the boys are in remote classroom locations, but they talk to girls only when the girls are close to the teacher. Boys are asked higher-order questions more often than girls. Teachers tend to give boys instructions about projects, while they often show girls how to complete the work. Boys are praised more frequently for the intellectual quality of their work, while girls tend to be praised for neatness and following directions.101 The lessons are clear: Boys are important and expected to be competent, and girls are unimportant and expected to need help. One study of elementary and middle school students showed that boys shouted answers eight times more often than girls. Moreover, when boys called out answers, teachers tended to listen, but when girls responded in a like manner, they were most often told to raise their hand if they wished to speak.102 Moreover, teachers are more apt to ask questions of boys when they do not volunteer.103 Such teacher behavior reinforces the subtle messages girls receive from home and society. One study asked groups to evaluate a variety of items ranging from paintings to résumés. When the subjects were led to believe that the author of the item was male, they consistently valued it more highly. When a second group was asked to evaluate the same items with the supposed authors’ sexes reversed, they consistently evaluated the item lower when they believed its
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author was a woman.104 A similar study asked college students to evaluate scholarly articles. In this study both women and men rated the articles higher when they believed they were written by men.105 Societal messages reinforce school gender lessons. Women are viewed as less capable, and their work is devalued. The result is to emphasize to girls that they are not expected to be independent, creative, intellectually competent, or aggressive. Surely these messages must contribute to the general lack of self-confidence that researchers find in girls at the secondary school level and beyond.106 Unfortunately, instructional materials communicate many of the same messages to students. During the last few decades several studies analyzing sex bias in instructional materials have been published.107 The seminal work was Dick and Jane as Victims: Sex Stereotyping in Children’s Readers. It analyzed almost 2,800 stories in 134 elementary school readers used in three New Jersey suburbs during the 1970s. Most of the stories were about males: there were two and one-half times as many stories about boys as there were about girls, three times as many stories about men as about women, six times as many male biographies as female biographies, and even twice as many male animal stories as female animal stories. In the stories boys and men were portrayed as brave, creative, smart, diligent, and independent. Girls were most often timid, passive, adventureless, and dependent on boys to help them. Men were shown in 147 different occupations; women were shown in 26, mostly traditional female occupations.108 Gender Bias in Secondary Schools The problem persists in secondary school curriculum materials. A 1971 study of popular secondary U.S. history texts found that women were almost totally absent and that the little material devoted to women tended to be less than complimentary.109 The 1992 study by the American Association of University of Women, How Schools Shortchange Girls, concluded: Studies from the late 1980s reveal that although sexism has decreased in some elementary school texts and basal readers, the problem persists, especially at the secondary school level, in terms of what is considered important enough to study. A 1989 study of book-length works taught in high school English courses reports that, in a national sample of public, independent, and Catholic schools, the ten books assigned most frequently included only one written by a woman and none by members of minority groups. This research, which used studies from 1963 and 1907 as a base line, concludes that, “the lists of most frequently required books and authors are dominated by white males, with little change in overall balance from similar lists 25 or 80 years ago.”110 The report noted that research during the 1980s and 1990s in other secondary school subject areas, such as social studies and foreign languages, showed similar developments. Research on social studies texts indicated that “while women were more often included, they are likely to be the usual ‘famous women,’ or women in protest movements. Rarely is there dual and balanced treatment of women and men, and seldom are women’s perspectives and cultures presented on their own terms.”111 In instructional material for foreign languages the research commonly found “exclusion of girls, stereotyping of members of both sexes, subordination or degradation of girls, isolation of materials on women, superficiality of attention to contemporary issues or social problems, and cultural inaccuracy.”112 Linda K. Christian-Smith’s “Voices of Resistance: Young Women Readers of Romance Fiction” highlights an important curriculum issue with respect to young women with low reading ability in secondary schools.113 Since the early 1980s teen romance novels have become the third most widely read young adult books. They are now a $500-million-a-year industry.114 The teen romance novels are designed for “reluctant readers” and are sold through school book clubs to students. Often students are allowed to substitute these works for more traditional English readings that they see as too difficult or boring. The books are gender-differentiated, with mystery and adventure books for males and romance, dating, and problem-solving novels for females. ChristianSmith investigated the use of these romance novels in a midwestern city and intensively studied the reactions of about 30 young women to this literature. Not surprisingly, teachers were reluctant to allow their students to abandon traditional literature but quickly acquiesced to pressure from both the students and educational authorities who demanded improvement in reading scores. The young women reported that the romance novels offered “escape, a way to get away from problems at home and school,” “better reading than dreary textbooks,” “enjoyment and pleasure,” and “a way to learn about romance and dating.”115 Christian-Smith found that the young women often developed their own interpretations for the social situations portrayed in the novels. However, because teachers did not require discussion of
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these readings, the young women seldom had any opportunity to understand the novels in a way that would help them “locate the contradictions between popular fiction’s version of social relations and their own lives as well as help them to develop the critical tools necessary to make deconstructive readings that unearth political interests that shape the form as well as content of popular fiction.”116 Thus, “when young women read teen romance novels similar to Quin-Harkins’s California Girl, they become parts of a fictional world where men give meaning and completeness to women’s lives and women’s destinies are to tend the heart and hearth.”117 The teen romance novel issue points to two problems faced by teenage women in American schools. The first is the double burden of gender and class. Working-class and lower-class young women are faced with many curricular choices. Usually they are without guidance. Their families often do not have the experience, information, or knowledge necessary to provide useful guidance. The schools normally abrogate their responsibility to provide the essential guidance. Christian-Smith indicated that teachers did not long insist on providing reading guidance, and when students chose romance novels, teachers did not follow with discussions of the materials, which might have provided an educationally sound experience. Carl A. Grant and Christine E. Sleeter note that schools generally provide resources for students but tend to take a laissez-faire attitude toward students, especially workingclass students.118 These students often follow the “path of least resistance,” taking the courses or completing the readings that are easiest or require the least amount of time and work. Often the students do not realize what is at stake when they make these decisions. Schools do not help make the issues clear. The second problem highlighted by the teen romance novel issue is related to puberty, dating, and romance. As young women enter puberty, they are presented with gender roles by parents, television, movies, magazines, romance novels, and commercials. Most of these sources emphasize the importance of popularity. To be popular in contemporary American society, a young woman must cultivate the interest of young men. This requires both socially conditioned beauty and socially sanctioned demeanor. One of the young women in Christian-Smith’s study put the issue succinctly: “The prettiest and most popular girls have their pick of the boys.”119 Girls are constantly bombarded by television and other mass media with models of beauty. Few indeed are the young women who can fit the conventional mold for beauty: slim, long slender legs, large—but not too large—breasts, blond, full-bodied hair, clear and fair complexion, between five feet two inches and five feet five inches tall, fashionable clothes, and the latest cosmetics. It is littlewonder that most young women spend a large amount of money, time, and energy on their physical appearance. And the results do not lead to self-satisfaction. A 1990 national survey discovered that only 29 percent of high school girls were “happy the way I am.”120 One should not be surprised that many young women are often depressed or that eating disorders are a problem among teenage girls. If appearance concerns are not sufficient to distract many young women from academic matters, the demands of demeanor certainly do not contribute to their academic success. By the time young women reach the teen years they have learned the appropriate demeanor for a “popular” girl. Deference to male pride is essential. Girls must never “show up” boys. It is an unusual young woman who does not know that she is not supposed to seem smarter than the boys if she is to be popular. Deckard states, “The really popular, successful high school girl is not a ‘brain’ or even an athlete; she is a cheerleader. She embodies the supportive and admiring role assigned to girls. She is defined in terms of her relationship to boys.”121 It is relatively certain that this aspect of gender roles does not contribute to the academic success of young women. How much it detracts is a complex and difficult question. Unfortunately, little research has been devoted to it. Gender and Academic Achievement There is an enormous amount of research data on academic achievement and participation. Much of it is discussed in the AAUW report. Summarizing some significant recent studies, the report states: Despite a narrowing of the “gender gaps” in verbal and mathematical performance, girls are not doing as well as boys in our nation’s schools. The physical sciences is one critical area in which girls continue to trail behind. More discouraging still, even the girls who take the same mathematics and science courses as boys and perform equally well in tests are much less apt to pursue scientific or technical careers than their male classmates. This is a “gender gap” our nation can no longer afford to ignore.122 It is well documented that as young women advance in high school and college, they increasingly lower their estimation of their academic abilities and lower their goals.123 Although the process leading to this condition
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is complex, it is difficult to ignore the central role of gender in the decline of self-confidence among young women. This decline results in many missed academic and career choices. Evidence of Concern for Gender Equity It would be comforting to believe that since the passage in 1972 of Title IX, which mandates equal educational opportunity for girls and boys, there has been an increased awareness and marshaling of resources to eliminate gender inequality in American education. Indeed, there have been some encouraging signs. Female participation in high school athletics has increased from 4 to 26 percent, and the success of U.S. women in team sports beginning with the 1996 Olympics was directly attributed to the success of Title IX.124 There has been a narrowing of the achievement gap between males and females as mea sured by standardized tests. In some areas curriculum materials are less genderbiased. Some important research on gender equity and education has been published. On the whole, however, it is fair to say that the effort has been poorly financed and its results have been less than sterling. Between 1983, when the U.S. Department of Education issued its report A Nation at Risk, and the release of the AAUW report in 1992, there were at least 35 reports by major educational task forces. Only one addressed the question of gender equity.125 At least part of the problem may be the fact that few women were members of the 35 groups issuing the reports. One group had no women. In only two did women constitute at least 50 percent of the membership. The 35 groups had a total of 834 male and only 171 female members.126 Perhaps it should not be a surprise that there was very little mention and almost no discussion of gender issues as part of the problems facing American education. Lack of adequate female representation in leadership positions is a continuing problem in American education. In 1991 only 9 of the 50 chief state school officers were women. Female representation on American What role has gender played in the ways Americans have organized and conducted schooling in recent years? Does your own experience tend to confirm or challenge the portrayal of gendered education in this chapter? Explain how. Thinking Critically about the Issues #5 local school boards increased from 10 percent in 1927 to only 33 percent in 1990. Also in 1990, 72 percent of all schoolteachers were women; however, 72 percent of school principals and 95 percent of superintendents were men.127 According to research by Professor Linda Skrla of Texas A&M, 90 percent of district superintendents are male. Given that 75 percent of teachers are female, the odds that a woman will rise from teaching to the superintendency are 40 to 1.128 These numbers represent only a slight improvement in the percentage of females in administrative posts in the past 20 years: In 1971, 99 percent of superintendents were men and 72 percent of principals were men.129 This disparity does not exist because there are many fewer qualified women available for administrative positions or because men are better educational administrators. One study in the mid-1970s showed that about the same number of male and female teachers had the necessary credentials, the major difference being that the median number of years of teaching experience before appointment to the principalship was only 5 for men while it was 15 for women.130 There is no evidence to suggest that women are less effective than men as educational administrators. Indeed, a 1960s study by Neal Gross and Anne Trask showed that “professional performance of teachers and the amount of student learning were higher on the average in schools with women principals. Further, the morale of the staff did not depend on the gender of the principal.”131 Remaining Barriers Many of the obstacles colonial American women faced have been removed. The de jure barriers that kept women from educational institutions and professions in the early eras have been dismantled. Women can now enter primary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. It is illegal to bar a woman from any educational setting simply because she is a woman. Unfortunately, we have discovered that admission to a school does not necessarily mean equal access to an education. Most of the current barriers that deny women equal access to education involve societal definitions of gender and resulting social and educational practices. Until American society begins to believe that all persons are equal and treats everyone as an individual rather than typing people according to group membership, we will continue to experience problems of equal educational opportunity. As long as we believe that women are different from men, with qualitatively different characteristics and abilities, we will continue
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to believe that certain occupations are for males and certain others are for females. The corresponding denigration of women’s gender roles will continue to contribute to the vast inequality of income between women and men. The inevitable result is a lowering of self-esteem and a closure of opportunity for women. The fact that societal attitudes and behaviors are central to the problem of equal educational opportunity for women is not an excuse for inaction on the part of schools or teachers. If we believe that every child has the right to the best education she or he can absorb, we must act to counter the damaging educational effects of gender bias. As teachers we have an obligation to understand the causes of any problem that inhibits the learning of any group of children. While this is much more easily said than done, schools in several communities throughout the country are showing us ways to teach all groups of children more successfully. We turn to this challenge in Chapter 13. BUILDING A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION This chapter has challenged a basic assumption underlying 20th-century schooling in the United States. This chapter’s challenge was grounded in a critical examination of social science theories that purport to explain why some racial, ethnic, and social class groups consistently perform more poorly than others in schools and in the economy. In addition, gender differences in school and society were examined briefly for their contribution to understanding inequality and inequity in schooling. The belief that in our educational system a person’s success in school and in economic life is based only on his or her innate learning ability has been shown to be unfounded. Yet liberal ideology locates the source of school success and failure in individuals, and some educators are fond of the maxim that treating all students as individuals will ensure equitable educational experiences. Research indicates, however, that the group differences (among ethnicities or social classes, for example) in school performance cannot be attributed simply to individual talent and motivation without taking into account the cultural contexts that shape individuals. If individuals are importantly influenced by their cultures and if students in American schools come from identifiably different cultural backgrounds, treating all students as individuals requires attention to the cultural difference s. There is significant evidence that the content and processes of American schools have been relatively hospitable to the achievement of White middle-class students and especially to White middle-class male students. Certainly, females succeed in schools too, as do a great many children from African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and other racial and ethnic backgrounds. But if members of any of those groups perform disproportionately poorly in schools, educators should become alerted to a possible mismatch between the school culture and the home culture of the student. All too often such an observation leads to two destructive misunderstandings. The first is that students from such mismatched cultural backgrounds are culturally (and, it is often thought, linguistically) deficient, and therefore the schools have to correct these deficiencies; the second is that any Native American, African American, or Hispanic child necessarily has cultural barriers to surmount in school. The cultural deficiency misunderstanding is grounded in the failure to recognize that students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds are already living in full and rich cultures with customs, histories, and linguistic systems that don’t need correcting. Educators have no reason to believe that such students are not capable of learning rigorous academic material; to the contrary, there are shining examples of how schools can respond to such students to support their academic success. What needs to be recognized is that the American school’s content and processes reflect the values and practices of a dominant culture that devalues the language, values, and practices of many minority cultures. Moreover, such students are too easily judged deficient by inadequate standards that are class- or race-biased. It would be more educationally sound for educators to examine the interaction of the school and the child rather than just the performance of the child as measured by dominant
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standards. Some educators have developed an analysis of school experience which suggests that schools can indeed respond in ways that secure the success of students from subordinated cultures. Such responses demand a conception of cultural pluralism that respects diversity among peoples and among students’ different ways of encountering the school culture. Such a conception may not come “naturally” to a profession that is largely White and socialized by the dominant culture’s value and practices. Gender theory suggests a way to avoid the second misunderstanding: that an individual possesses certain characteristics just by virtue of belonging to a racial, ethnic, or gender group. To make such an assumption conforms to the definition of bias, and this is something most educators wish to avoid. Yet to ignore ethnic or gender differences—to be “gender -neutral” or “race-neutral” in the treatment of students, for example—may overlook a variable that is crucial to understanding a student’s experience of the world and of school. If students come to school with very different preparations for success in the distinctively White middle-class school culture, to ignore important differences in the effort to achieve “equal treatment” may lead to very inequitable results. It seems we are caught on the horns of a dilemma: To take account of students’ group differences may be biased, but not to take account of them is to treat different learners as if they were the same, which will benefit some learners at the expense of others. To treat students as individuals is, at its best, to try to take account of and respond to differences among students that have consequences for learning. If gender or cultural background is significant in making a student the individual learner he or she is, there are times when that factor needs to be taken into account. Yet to assume that an African American student should be treated differently simply because he is African American or that a girl needs special treatment because she is a girl is to risk racial or gender bias. Jane Roland Martin’s contribution to the solution of this dilemma has been the notion of “gender sensitivity,” in which the teacher seeks to recognize when gender is a significant variable in student learning and when it is not. In addition, part of gender sensitivity is learning to celebrate and reward certain socialized feminine characteristics, such as caring, cooperation, and nurturance—which are often not well rewarded in society or in schooling—while at the same time helping female students develop the skills and self-confidence to succeed in traditionally male domains such as mathematics, science, and community leadership. Similarly, the contributions of all minority groups can be celebrated and affirmed while students from African American, Native American, Asian, and Hispanic cultures are helped to succeed in the linguistic and academic skills that the dominant culture rewards. Culture sensitivity, however, is not just recognizing African American History Month; it is learning to recognize when the subordinating forces of the dominant culture are interfering with a student’s learning potential and then seeking to equip students to respond to those forces. Not all African American students, or all American students, experience such interference, and those who do may not experience it all the time. Being culturally sensitive and pluralistic requires one to learn to recognize when race or ethnicity, just like gender or social class, is a significant variable in a student’s learning experience. The consequences of all this for building a philosophy of education are several, but one of the most important is the teacher’s commitment to what has by now become a modern cliché: All children can learn. Well, it might be said, of course they can, and some learn quickly and well, while others learn just a little. But some teachers and school leaders maintain the conviction that when every student isn’t learning well, something is amiss and needs correction. They know that there are schools in which low-income children of majority and minority backgrounds succeed at very high academic levels, and that such schools serve as proof that all children really can learn well. The most successful teachers try to locate the sources of failure to learn not in the child, or in the child’s home, but in the interactions between the child and home and school. With such a conviction, teachers know that the school (and the teacher)
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bears a major part of the responsibility for improving the learning outcomes. If you were a parent of a low-income minority child, which kind of teacher would you want your child to have: one who was truly convinced of the ability of all children to learn challenging academic material, or one who was not? For a teacher to have such a conviction means that he or she does not begin to doubt it when some students do poorly. Rather, the teacher asks, what are the reasons why these children with so much ability are not learning, and how do we address those reasons? With such a teacher, the classroom becomes a learning environment in which all children really do learn. How the teacher’s conviction translates into classroom and school practices to support student success is the focus of the next chapter. Primary Source Reading A Public Education Primer: Basic (and Sometimes Surprising) Facts about the U.S. Educational System This report was written by Nancy Kober, a CEP consultant, and Alexandra Usher, CEP research assistant. Diane Stark Rentner, CEP’s director of national programs, and Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO, provided advice and assistance. Based in Washington, D.C., and founded in January 1995 by Jack Jennings, the Center on Education Policy is a national independent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. The Center works to help Americans better understand the role of public education in a democracy and the need to improve the academic quality of public schools. We do not represent any special interests. Instead, we help citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create the conditions that will lead to better public schools. Introduction Public education matters, whether you’re a student, parent, teacher, administrator, employer, or taxpayer. Although you undoubtedly know something about public education, you may be unaware of important facts about the U.S. educational system or may be surprised to learn how things have changed in recent years. This edition of A Public Education Primer updates and expands on the version originally published by the Center on Education Policy in 2006. Like the first publication, this revised edition pulls together recent data about students, teachers, school districts, schools, and other aspects of elementary and secondary education in the U.S. Included are facts and figures on the distribution of students, student demographics, educational entities and their responsibilities, funding, student achievement, teachers, and other school services. As much as possible, the data compiled here come from the federal government—primarily the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the data-gathering arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Where NCES data are not available, we’ve carefully chosen data from other reliable sources. This primer is meant to give an overall snapshot of elementary and secondary education in the nation’s public schools. In general, we’ve used data for the most recent year available. In many cases, these recent data are compared with data from ten years earlier or with future projections to show how things have changed or are expected to change. A few indicators, such as those relating to student achievement, show trends going back two or more decades to provide a historical perspective. The data in this report represent national averages. The experiences, trends, and issues in your local community may vary somewhat from the broad picture presented here. We hope this primer will provide you with sufficient background information about public education.

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